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FTC Report: 80 Percent of R-Rated Movies, 70 Percent of Mature- Rated Video Games Target Kids Under 17

Aired September 11, 2000 - 10:00 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with an infallible truth known to parents and anyone who has ever been a teenager. If you want to stoke a child's interest, declare something off-limits. According to a federal report being released at this hour, that age-old reality is now driving a billion-dollar industry.

The Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, says the entertainment industry routinely identifies its most violent movies, music and video games as being appropriate only for adults.

Live to Washington now, where a briefing has just gotten under way on this very topic.


ROBERT PITOFSKY, FTC CHAIRMAN: On a parallel track, many in Congress asked us pretty much the same question, that included Senators McCain, Hatch, Brownback, Hollings and Lieberman. And they all indicated interest in this project. Also I should say that Senator Gregg, who is head of our Appropriations Committee, was very helpful in supporting our efforts in this area.

The question that the president asked were as follows: Do the movie, music recording and computer game industries market to young people products that contain violent content in a way that undermines the ratings they, themselves, apply to their products? And, if so, is it intentional?

For all three industry segments and for both questions, the answer is yes.

Today, we submit our report, approved unanimously by this agency, to the president and to Congress.

While rating systems vary, each of these industry segments do have a ratings system that designates certain material as warranted parental control or as inappropriate for young people. Nevertheless, the companies in each entertainment segment routinely end-run, and thereby undermine, these parental warnings by target-marketing their products to young audiences.

We examined marketing plans for most best-selling video games rated mature and sold in 1999. There was simply too many pieces of music, 6,000 a year, and too many movies to rate every one. So we selected on the basis of trade publications that indicated that these R-rated movies would be appealing to young people, or these explicit content recordings were among the very best selling in any particular period of time.

Our review is a telling snapshot of what's going on in these industries. Of 44 movies rated R, 35, or 80 percent, were marketed to youngsters under 17.

One document says: "Our goal was to find the elusive teen target audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12 and 18 was exposed to the film."

Another document dealt with a sequel. The first movie had been rated R and the sequel was coming along, and the marketers correctly predicted it would be rated R. The document said: "There is evidence to suggest that the audience for the original movie dipped down to the age of 10. Therefore, it seems to make sense to interview 10- and 11- year-olds. In addition, we will survey African-American and Latino moviegoers between the ages of 10 and 24."

Now, it did occur to us that somebody is going to say: Well, if you look at thousands of documents, you are going to find one that's extreme. And that one was extreme one. But we then checked other marketing efforts in other situations, and we found that marketing groups, included -- groups that were tested for marketing, included something like 80 or 90 percent people under 17. And eight of the 44 included in their marketing group people as young as 12.

We reviewed the entire practice of -- that's the marketing groups. Another document spoke of targeting youth groups, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H Clubs. Of the 55 music recordings with explicit content, all 55 were marketed to an audience of 17 and younger; 15 of them, or 27 percent, expressly said that their target was 17 and younger.

One document said: The target audience was 12-34.

While the marketing documents of the remaining 40 explicit content recordings did not expressly state the age of the audience, they were all advertised in magazines, on TV, where it's well-known that the audience is predominantly or substantially young people.

For example, music is aggressively marketed on MTV, where demographic data shows that close to one half of the audience is under age 17 during most parts of the day.

Of the 118 electronic games with a Mature rating for violence -- and incidentally, in the course of this project, I've looked at these games, even played a few. And I must say the level of violence in some of these games is really astonishing; 83 of those games, or 70 percent, were targeted to children under 17.

One such plan referred to a target market as, quote, "Male 17-34, due to an M rating (the true target market is males 12-34)."

A couple of other marketing plans even referred to a target audience as young as 6 and 8.

Finally, a document recommends television ads to a primary male audience of 12-17 because, as the document says, the younger, the audience the more likely they are to be influenced by TV advertising.

Our study found that retailers make little effort to control who views these materials or who purchases these materials. As far as movies are concerned, a little under 50 percent of the movie theaters make no effort whatsoever to check for age. And even in those theaters, where they do check for age, we found in our study, that young people have no difficulty devising stratagems to get around the ticket seller and see the movie.

The easiest thing would be in a multiplex theater to buy a ticket to a movie rated OK for everybody, and then go into the auditorium where the R-movie is being shown.

Incidentally, the 50 percent figure is probably a bit better than it was a little over a year ago when the president initiated this study. But it's still around the 50 percent range.

As to explicit rated music and as to mature video games, we had a group of young people 13-16 in several dozen cities around the country secretly shop these stores. And the conclusion with respect to both products was that in -- 85 percent of the time no difficulty buying Mature-rated materials.

The commission did not independently survey the issue of whether there was a causal connection between exposure to violent materials and violent behavior. We did a literature search, however, and it is summarized in one of the appendices. And I think what we found is that most people would say that there is no evidence of a direct causal connection between being exposed to violent materials and then going out and committing a violent act. Indeed, it -- exposure may not even be a primary cause of engaging in violent behavior.

It is, nevertheless, according to the majority of these studies, a valid cause for concern. Exposure does seem to correlate with aggressive attitudes, insensitivity to violence, and an exaggerated view of how much violence there is in the world.

HEMMER: FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, speaking there live in Washington about the results of this latest study. It is being released now at this hour, That report will conclude that 80 percent of R-rated movies, target ticket-buyers under the age of 17. Likewise, 70 percent of Mature-rated video games, that is with the "M" rating, target kids under 17.

The ultimate test of the marketing may come at the checkout. And parents can find little comfort here. According to the FTC anyway, 85 percent of children, 13-16 years of age, were able to buy music with explicit lyrics or violent video games. Also half of moviegoer in that age group were allowed into R-rated movies. Those the results of the FTC report.

More on the report later tonight on CNN's "NEWSSTAND," a special about marketing music based on the results of this survey; 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 on the West Coast, again, a special edition of CNN "NEWSSTAND" later tonight.



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